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DNA ties man who died in 2017 to 3 killings in Virginia in the 1980s, state police say

By Steve Almasy and Sara Smart, CNN

(CNN) — When 63-year-old Alan W. Wilmer Sr. died in December 2017, Virginia authorities needed to identify him and took a DNA sample – six years later, that genetic material linked him to the killings of three people in the 1980s, officials said Tuesday.

Wilmer’s genetic material matched that found on the victims of a double shooting in 1987 and a woman who had been strangled in 1989 in the Hampton Roads region, Virginia State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller said at a news conference.

“Through forensic evidence analyzed and certified by the Virginia Department of Forensic Science, Alan Wade Wilmer Sr. has been declared the person responsible for the (killings),” Geller told reporters.

The fatal shootings of David L. Knobling, 20, and Robin M. Edwards, 14, in Isle of Wight County almost 37 years ago had been lumped into other double homicides known as the Colonial Parkway Murders. But Geller said there is no evidence at this time linking those cold cases to the killings tied to Wilmer.

Knobling and Edwards were last seen on September 19, 1987, and their bodies were found four days later along the shoreline on the south bank of the James River in Isle of Wight County, according to authorities.

The strangling death of Teresa Lynn Spaw Howell, 29, has never been considered one of the Colonial Parkway cases. She was last seen outside a nightclub in Hampton on July 1, 1989, and her clothing was found less than 12 hours later by construction workers about 5 miles away, authorities said. Her body was discovered in a nearby wood line.

Howell was found within 15 miles of where the bodies of Knobling and Edwards were located, and like Edwards, she had been sexually assaulted, according to authorities.

Police are still seeking information about Wilmer, a commercial fisherman who sometimes lived on his boat but was also seen in a pickup with a distinctive license plate. Geller said the two cases discussed Tuesday are “resolved but not closed” and they are investigating whether Wilmer might have committed other crimes.

Authorities didn’t say Tuesday why they decided to look at Wilmer as a suspect. Wilmer had no felony convictions so his DNA was not taken while he was alive, Geller said.

“We have lived with the fear of worrying that a person deliberately killing Robin and David could attack and claim another victim,” the families of Knobling and Edwards wrote in a statement released by state police. “Now we have a sense of relief and justice knowing that he can no longer victimize another.”

But they lamented they would be left with questions about the killings due to Wilmer’s death.

Howell’s family also released a statement and asked for privacy.

“While we are grateful for the closure that has been provided, nothing will bring Teri back,” the family said. “The void left by her absence over the years is inexpressible.”

In the 1980s, Wilmer was a fisherman who often docked his commercial fishing boat in Gloucester County and Middlesex County, state police said in a news release. He also ran a tree service and hunted frequently.

He was 5 feet, 5 inches tall, muscular and weighed approximately 165 pounds, according to state police, who have asked anyone who may have had contact with Wilmer to come forward. Wilmer drove a distinctive, blue 1966 Dodge Fargo pickup with the Virginia license plate “EM-RAW” and writing on the truck’s passenger door, police said.

“Anyone who may have worked with Alan W. Wilmer Sr. or hunted with him, farmed oysters and clams with him, docked next to him at marinas in the Northern Neck, Hampton Roads or Middle Peninsula areas, or hung out with him is encouraged to contact the FBI by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI or submitting a tip online at,” the release said.

CNN’s Sara Smart contributed to this report.

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